It's What You'll See From Space
Sara stood peering out of the small round quartz-glass window, dozens of bolts forming three Saturnian rings around its circumference. A patch of condensation adorned the bottom of the window where Sara’s breath touched it, and the haze diffused what stray rays of light reached the craft’s window, cold rays that carried with them stardust and coded messages. The earth had its back turned to the little spacecraft, and showed Sara long threads of lights, intertwining and crossing, connecting the bright nodes that marked earth’s largest metropolitan centres. She could imagine those cities, throbbing like engorged industrial hearts, churning out power and light to be carried across the vast expanses of unclaimed territory by veins of wire and street lamps that linked cities to villages to hamlets to remote RV parks or lone cabins. Earth sparkled like a disco ball at a senior prom, rotating slowly through the dark gymnasium of space, its light blasted in every direction to the ultrasonic riffs of satellites in orbit.
“David,” Sara said quietly, “David!”
“Look out there. Look at the earth.”
Soon David and Sara stood side by side and stared out at their home planet, its dark hemisphere and intricate pattern of lights, the whole thing flanked on either edge by a soft gradient: on the left a crescent of warm sunlight, on the right a sliver of orange. For a long time, neither David nor Sara spoke.
“Do you remember when we took that tour of French cathedrals with the kids, when they were little?” asked David.
“Seems like ages ago.”
“It was,” replied David.
“That cold, damp smell. Those cathedrals felt like they were carved out of the earth, like the builders didn’t really bother building them because they knew that it would be easier to scrape away the surrounding world instead,” said Sara.
“And you’d go in through those massive wood doors, framed in stones so ancient that God himself must have carved and stacked them. Do you remember how dark it was once the doors were closed? But when your eyes adjusted, you could see that what surrounded you was a corridor of pillars a mile high, supporting a ceiling so far above you that it was veiled in darkness, except for the penetrating light, here and there, from a stained glass window. And we had to leave, because George was having trouble breathing, he said it felt like he was being crushed. I felt it too, the weight of God, the sublime, agoraphobic grandeur of the divine. The cathedrals remind us of our insignificance, and they do almost as good a job at it as the oceans and mountain ranges do. Nothing compares to this, though. Look at all of this emptiness,” replied David.
The two stood in silence for some time. No clocks ticked, no car doors slammed, no horns were honked, and there were no children playing; out here, the usual accompaniment of life’s quiet moments was composed almost exclusively of hums. Engines hummed, computers and their screens hummed, and gyroscopes hummed at a higher frequency than the rest. David was reminded of a barbershop quintet warming up. Then he said, “We’ve made a big mistake.”
“We’ve made lots of those.”
“Well, coming out here. The four-man colony. Mars. All that. Bad idea.”
“It was your bad idea, remember?”
“It didn’t seem so bad. I thought we could both use a distraction. We were approaching misery city fast, I did what I thought was best.”
“Besides, I don’t think it was a bad idea.”
“This is the most we’ve talked in years, there is something to be said for that. What happens when we get to where we’re going? What happens when we’ve been alone, you and I, and two strangers, for years?”
“We’ve done it before you know,” said Sara, “we had children.”
She turned from the window and looked at her husband. Her eyes were planets, as dark and distant as the earth. The foggy microcosm on the window slowly disappeared.
“Do you resent me for it Sara?” asked David.
“No,” she replied. But she did.
“I don’t think having more would have made us any happier.”
“It would have made me happier, you know that.”
She changed, in a corner of the room, then lay down to sleep. The thin bottom bunk mattress sagged gently and took on the shape of her thigh. David lingered at the window until Sara’s snores called him into his own bunk, where he lay watching the stars linger in the window.